Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

I guess I’m becoming known as the ‘Give-Away Lady” because a friend was visiting from out of town and brought some books for me to give away. The problem is that he has good taste in reading material – meaning he likes the same books I do. One of the books, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, was on my “want to read list” so I devoured it immediately. The other books were of interest to our long term house guest. Oh oh, I’m adding books rather than pruning my book shelves.

Giving away words in the form of a compliment, greeting card, letter to the editor, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer, or putting out a political sign can take time and thought. I’ve been trying to be more conscious of words these days – both acknowledging a talent in another and refraining from complaining. Since it’s hard to photograph speech, I also found 12 caps around the house – most with various logos. Since I only have one head, I felt that two for me and two for Jim should be plenty. I picked out my favorites. That leaves 8 to give away.

The young couple and their 4 month old baby that I mentioned in the post, “Letting Go Of Privacy” has been staying with us for a couple weeks now. You get to know people on a deeper level when they live with you. We have been impressed with their respectfulness and willingness to work and help out around the house. BUT, having raised 4 children and being a family life educator, I also notice things that I’d like to advise them on. It’s hard enough trying to discern when to advise our own young adults, but even more delicate when the person is not related to you. When is parenting, nutrition, financial, and life skills advice helpful and when does it just sound like criticism? It’s hard to know when I am over-reaching or being over-responsible. On the other hand, if it were my own young adults in need of temporary help, I’d hope that a wise adult would give them solid information about life. What they do with it is up to them. When is unsolicited advice appropriate and necessary and when is it interfering and keeping them dependent? That is the question. Any advice?

Lupus is a serious disease – not a person, but it solved my storage problem brought on by plastering our stairwell. A few days ago, I got an unsolicited call saying that the Lupus Foundation would have a truck in our neighborhood next Thursday. Did I have anything to contribute? I assume it was just dumb luck that they called me. (I don’t think they’ve been reading my blog.) Anyway, it was an easy way to clear out my stuffed stairwell before the plasterer comes. Since many of this weeks items are not new give-aways, I added a few miscellaneous items.

Our house is over 100 years old and we have plaster issues! After 28 years of “living with it” we decided to repair the crumbling plaster in our stairwell. By “we” I don’t mean “me” but we hired a professional plasterer. What does this have to do with giving stuff away – other than a whole lot of dust? Answer: The stairwell is where I’ve been storing my stuff till I find a home for it. See next Sunday’s blog for the solution.

A couple nights ago the phone rang at 10:30 pm – not a good sign. It was the young woman who we’ve been helping through her pregnancy, marriage, and miscellaneous needs. She said she, her husband, and 4-month-old baby needed an emergency place to live for a short time. They discovered that the place they were staying was no longer a healthy environment. (I’ll leave the details to your imagination.) Could they stay with us? Hmmmm. On one hand I’m an extrovert and love company (mostly friends and relatives for a short time). On the other hand, Jim and I have settled into a quite pleasant empty-nest routine where our time is ours to control (mostly). Yes we do a lot of volunteer work and service but it’s on our own terms – not someone else’s schedule. Besides, having been a social worker I am too well aware of how a two week stay can morph into months. So the photo does not mean I’m giving away this cute little baby,  but rather giving away space and control of my lifestyle for awhile.
At first I felt compelled to report giving away seven tangible things each week, but today I know that giving away space, privacy, control, and time may be the biggest challenge of this year.

because I’ve got too much lettuce. It’s one of the mysteries of nature that the more one picks and prunes the more one gets. I’ve tried to grow lettuce before but got too little. This year I used the “just sprinkle the seed” approach and I got way too much and it needed thinning. What a happy problem. I thinned and gave the lettuce to the neighbor on the left. Thinned some more and took it to our neighbor on the right. Thinned again and took it across the street. It still didn’t look like I’d made a dent in it so I thinned once more and took it to another neighbor – all within a 24 hour period. It’s a little less crowded but not sparse. It’s almost like multiplying loaves and fishes. Lettuce share.

A few days ago a good friend stopped by as she was walking her dog. We chatted because it had been awhile since we had caught up with each other. Eventually, as dinner time approached, we invited her to stay. Dinner was very nice, leisurely, and long. Near the end I started getting antsy since I realized I had a lot of housework to do that I had postponed to spend time with our friend. I’m sure I did the right thing but my “Martha side” started feeling impatient. For me, giving away time is often harder than giving away things.

I thought of this as I corralled our son to transport some old cement blocks for use in a raised vegetable garden at his school. It took both our time, cars, and his strength to do this good deed – the cement blocks were secondary. The cement blocks don’t make a pretty picture but it’s easier than taking a photo of time. The six of them plus a dinner and time were my give-aways this week.

One of my readers recently said that my blog made her laugh out loud at her desk and that now I can add laughter as something I gave away.  I have the reputation, rightly earned, as being a lousy joke teller so this was a gift back to me too. Now, is this an equal sum game in which if I give something away, but it comes right back, it equals zero – and thus I can’t count it! That’s your zen conundrum for the day.

The stuff I’ve chosen to give away had swamped the corner of the house I’ve been storing it in until I could take it to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill. I decided to try Freecycle (a service like “Craig’s List” but everything is free). It was amazing! Once I learned the mechanics of how to make a post, I received 5 inquiries in the first 5 minutes and probably 25 all together. The neat thing about Freecycle is that people come to YOU to pick up the stuff and there’s no haggling over price because it’s all free. (I’ve done plenty of bargaining when visiting developing countries and it’s a pleasure not to have to negotiate prices.) Almost all my 150+ items were swooped up in two days.

As I learned what people were looking for, I added a few items that I hadn’t yet decided to give away. Those plus my time responding to e-mails and answering the doorbell added up to at least seven items this week. I was also impressed to learn that a lot of people are giving a lot of things away. Some of my freecyclers were mainly middlemen/women who have a number of needy families or schools that they distribute the stuff to.

One of the advantages of storing my give-aways until I could bundle them all up and make one or two trips to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill, is that my decisions were reversible – at least for awhile. This helped me “try out” living without an item and confirm that I was ready to let go of it. I have three pairs of jeans – one good, one for gardening, and one that’s in good condition but I think makes me look fat. I could also use the “fat jeans” for gardening and dirty home projects. I debated whether to give the good, but fat, jeans away or give away the pair with a hole in the knee. Several times I took the fat jeans out of the give-away pile, wore them, then put them back. I finally decided that it would be more respectful to give the “fat but good” jeans away since they were in better condition.

Since bouncing an item back and forth should still only count for 1 item, I also found a number of jogging pants and slippers that I don’t need. For someone who doesn’t jog, one pair is enough

Sometimes we give away stuff; sometimes it’s money or time. Several years ago my husband started mentoring a young man from a local junior high school. Although he’s the one giving his time, I realized that Josh was the ideal person to give some of the posters to that no longer decorate our kid’s rooms. I also gave him a souvenir from my Egypt trip.

Now that our kids have all graduated from college, not only are we free of tuition payments but some of our kids are actually making money. We asked if they would like to contribute to a scholarship fund for high-school graduates from their inner city public high-school. We would match what they contributed. They agreed. Now we all are investing in the education of a future generation. Time, posters, souvenirs, and money add up to at least seven items this week.

Actually the harder “time investment” I’ve been making for the past couple years has been tutoring at our son’s school. Giving money is easier than making a weekly commitment to be there for elementary math and reading.

I filed an extension for our income taxes since I was traveling in Africa and Asia around April 15. Now, it’s time for me to complete this duty. I may be one of the few people in the USA who think taxes are good. Not only do taxes pay for police and fire protection, defense, schools, and roads, they also provide the social safety net that many people need. Call me Pollyanna, but I think taxes are a way that we take care of our brothers and sisters who haven’t been blessed or lucky enough to have a good job or who are frail or elderly. (Besides I like going to National Parks and other beneficial things our taxes make possible.)
Still, does paying my taxes count as giving something away? They are not voluntary so maybe I shouldn’t count paying them as giving stuff away even though many more people will benefit from my tax money than the discretionary items I decide to give away each day. Just in case taxes don’t count, however, I still found about 10 miscellaneous trifles to pass on including some throw pillows, bath bubbles, and the real prize – Avon Bust Sculpt. It was a gag gift I got for my 50th birthday. I’m not saying I couldn’t use it; I just didn’t have confidence that it would make a difference. My taxes will.

Memories are one of those things you can give away without losing them. For Mother’s Day this year I gave my mother a jar of memories. I put 44 memories of my childhood and things I appreciated about my mother on brightly colored paper and put them in a glass jar. (I had given her 52 of these for Christmas thinking she would open one a week but she ended up doing one about every other day and was running low.) My mother is 87 and although she’s not senile, her short term memory is fading. I figure this could be a gift that keeps on giving. Once she goes through them all, she can start over since she probably won’t remember what she read a month ago. I also gave away about 15 miscellaneous items including belts, joke gifts, decorative dish towels and an old jock strap of Jim’s – but that wouldn’t make a very pretty picture.

Days 48-54 poison ivy-For years I’ve wondered what possible purpose in creation there could be for poison ivy or mosquitoes. Well, I’ve found a use for poison ivy – a plant to dump my hazardous chemicals on without guilt. You see, after taking all my hazardous materials to the special disposal place last Saturday, I found that even THEY wouldn’t take pesticides or chemical solvents. So, what to do? I thought of cheating and just burying them in the trash but my conscience (my husband) wouldn’t let me do it. Then I remembered that we had some poison ivy in a remote part of the yard. I’d been trying to get rid of it for years. I dumped the liquid on it. I’m still waiting for it to die.

Days 48-54 poison ivy-blankets-booksBy the way, I also chose to give away some ugly blankets from our bedroom and some books that have been on my night stand for way too long. They are “guilt books” – books that I know would be good for me to read but I just can’t get into them; better pass them on.

I’ve been waiting for April 24 for a long time. Apparently, so have a lot of other people in my neighborhood. It’s the day N. Kentucky finally sponsored a Hazardous Materials Disposal Day. I not only felt virtuous loading up an old computer, printer, and monitor, I also safely got rid of radios, lamps, light bulbs, paint, speakers, and various other broken electronics. On the way to the disposal center I ran into a traffic jam at the interstate exit. At first I thought there was an accident, but then I realized that all the cars were going to the same place I was – about two miles off the exit. It’s the first time I ever was thankful for so many cars ahead of me. It took a little longer but it was for a good cause.

Most communities have a day, week, or other period of time that they offer a drop off place for hazardous waste (often in the spring). Check the EPA website on Household Hazardous Waste for more information. Contact your local government for dates and places or find a Waste Management facility near you.

Happy Easter! The 40 days have come to an end, but not this project. The more I got into giving stuff away, the more I realized that these 40 days were simply the first round. Although I’ve given many things away, few items will I actually miss. To really stretch myself I’ll need to keep pruning and developing a stronger attitude of generosity. I’ve decided to try giving one thing away each day for a whole year. At first this seemed daunting but then I counted 151 drawers and 228 shelves in our home. If I just selected one item a day from these drawers and shelves that would be 379 days – well over a year. Even if I don’t find anything worthy of giving away from a particular shelf, I figure I’ve already banked 40 days. I believe that if I keep going, I’ll eventually be confronted with letting go of stuff that is not just excess.

THE FUTURE: It has, however, been time consuming to keep this pace of blogging and taking a photo every day. In order not to have my life taken over by this process, I plan to only blog once a week even though I will be choosing something every day. I still welcome your feedback and reflections. I’m taking the rest of April to disperse my collected stuff to good homes and resume the blog May 1.

Today is the last day for giving away – at least for awhile. I ventured out to the garage which is the last burial place for things on their way to the netherworld. There are probably a number of things that could be given/thrown away from here – like the STOP sign one of our kids liberated as a teenager. It’s a rainy day though and my back is not up to lugging stuff out. I did notice, however, that we still have over 50 signs from my husband’s school board campaigns. He promised he wouldn’t run again. Those can be history. We also have 5 bags of plastic bags waiting to be resurrected, i.e. recycled, into some usable material like composite lumber.
Tomorrow is Easter, the end of the 40 days but the beginning of the rest of life. I’ve decided to continue this process. Read how tomorrow.

If our basement storage room is the graveyard of electronic parts, the furnace room table is a step lower into the bowels of the undead. Dignity is surrendered here as I found an adult potty seat, speakers that were probably dead before we moved into the house but we figured maybe we just needed a little technical expertise to bring them back to life. Rug remnants waiting for a place that needs a patch are also stored here. It’s not a pleasant place but there are lots of nails and screws waiting to bring new life to a broken item.

Birdie was my Kris Kringle partner at our parish last Advent. I never met her but prayed for her and sent her a card. I know that she is African American from the parish directory. Jim and I have been trying to get to know more people in our parish especially people of other races since we have a racially diverse parish but often people don’t mix. We decided to invite Birdie over for dinner but she has been ill and has not been able to come. I decided to make a lasagna dinner for Birdie and take it to her. So today, I’m giving away food. Thanks to Jim who was the main cook.